Desert Island Movies

Charles Lieurance is an incredibly gifted writer and cultural critic, something that stems in part from his breathtaking intellect but equally in part from his intoxicatingly rich life.

I’d almost forgotten about this, but he asked me to list 5 desert island movies. My response:

Question: Why are we so obsessed with deserted islands? Answer: Because no one wants to be alone.

If I could take 5 movies with me (and none of them could be porn), I’d choose the following:

1) Run Lola Run (Tom Tykwer, 1998)

I love this movie because it evokes some of the same multilinear feelings that I experience when playing a well-crafted video game. In a game, you often stop and save your progress at a specific point in the timeline. Then you can race forward, trying various tactics and exploring new areas. And if you die or if the exploration cost you too much in terms of resources, you can back up to the point in timeline where you saved then proceed again. Often, after backing up, you move forward optimally. (A side effect of the unique way players experience their own narrative in games.) As a result, when you get to the end of the game, you’ve got this long linear experience, right? Your memories of what happened from beginning to end. Except that what’s missing are all the moments when you advanced, then died and backed up to the point at which you saved your progress. Those are like moments that happened, but didn’t happen. At the end of the game, your memories cannot be untangled; you remembered the things that happened in the actual playthrough timeline and things that happened in the discarded, aborted side timelines. Run Lola Run left me feeling the same way. And I have an intense and inexplicable love for German women like Franka Potente.

2) Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)

I love the nihilistic ethos of this film. And I love the music. Brando here is one of the great villains. I like the original version btw. The Redux version is too long and contains some side threads that I found largely irrelevant.

3) The Last Picture Show (Peter Bogdanovich, 1971)

There’s something about small, dying towns that I love. If I ever survive an apocalypse, I will probably choose to live in a small town rather than an urban center. Growing up, my great grandparents had a farm in Moulton, Texas, and it was already dying back then in the 1970s, so I’ve got an innate longing for the spirit of such places. So much happens in this movie, and the scenes and dialogue imply a lot more…years and generations of lives lived with partial success and the accompanying regrets.

4) Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982)

It’s a cliché for someone of my generation and tastes to choose this movie, but it’s so undeniably great, such an obvious labor of love and vision, that I’ve got to include it. Roy Batty has some of the best lines ever delivered. There’s some lesson in here about a director or screenwriting elevating an actor. Half the movie’s appeal is the vision style and graphic design, but really all the elements serve the whole in a way that’s rarely accomplished. As a 16 year old boy, I wanted a Pris replicant of my very own. I’m actually torn on which version I’d take; I know what I’m supposed to say, but I feel there are strengths to both the original and the director’s cut. From the director’s cut, the darker, more ambiguous ending is a complete win for me. From the original, the monologue adds a lot of depth to Deckard’s character. Sure, we all loved the director’s cut *after* gaining familiarity with the original, but I have to ask: Would the more stripped down version have been as powerful without the context provided by the original, heavier-handed version? I hate it that Ridley Scott feels like he’s answered the question definitively about whether Deckard was a replicant, because—first—the director’s intentions are far less important to me than the audience interpretation, and—second—because the ambiguity and doubt that the character felt about the possibility of false memories, of not being *real* were more powerful than a definitive answer either way.

5) Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942)

I’ll admit that I don’t normally like movies made before the 1970s. People like Scorsese, Cimino and Coppola brought so much grittiness and depth to film that it’s hard for me to go backward. Casablanca is one of the exceptions. I love fiction that focuses on a specific point in time, when a mixture of events and pressures up the ante for all the standard elements of human life. The love story still chokes me up.

I love Kubrick, and The Shining might have made the list except that if I had to watch it over and over on an island, the nights would be unpleasantly unnerving and I’d probably end up hanging myself from a coconut tree with a rope woven from my hair. And—for the mood, cinematography and sex—I might have included Eyes Wide Shut if, you know, anyone actually got properly laid in the movie.

Link to the original ILUVVIDEO post (and more responses to the desert movies question by others) at



I just saw Watchmen (twice) and liked the movie, though it wasn’t perfect.

My observations:

Much of what I loved about the graphic novel was preserved, even with the changes. The heroes-as-flawed-people, lots of thematic points, etc.

Some of the characters are actually better in the film than they are in the graphic novel, which surprised me. Nite Owl II, Silk Spectre II, Rorschach…all great. The character-expansions for the Comedian, Dr. Manhattan, Rorschach, et al were just exceedingly well done.

Visually, the movie was gorgeous. And the music, to my surprise, added tremendously. It felt appropriate to the medium.

Halfway to three-fourths of the way through the movie I was giddy: “This can’t be this good…” The last quarter of the movie and the ending, which were weaker and rushed, brought me down some.

If you haven’t read the original, you should. The Watchmen graphic novel is brilliant like nothing else: Unlike most fiction, the world moves in a disturbingly real way, sometimes driven by emotional reactions, sometimes by chance. It’s subversive to its own genre and challenging (like deeper vs shallower music). It’s a fascinating “alt US history” due to one major imagined change: The development of a superhero during the Manhattan project that leads to US dominance, Nixon escaping his shame and defeat, victory in Viet Nam, and less humility for the US government. It’s a comic focused on the interpersonal conflict between (and within) characters. The book can be read as an argument against cowboy-mentality and unshakable faith in heroes, giving it a lot of theme to chew over. It handles sex and relationship doubt better than most (non-graphic) novels. The elements of the story and the artwork itself are massively over-connected and sort of internally hyperlinked in a way that requires multiple readings. The characters are much more complex than those in most comics (and even in most novels). Watchmen contains a story-inside-the-story that people are affected by years later and still discuss.

It’s just great and deserves to be read several times.

Last Night in Austin

The Alamo Drafthouse is one of Austin’s current cultural treasures. I saw a Swedish film from this year’s Fantastic Fest over the weekend, called Let the Right One In, and I loved it. Avoid spoilers, but definitely check it out. Alternately dark and touching, creepy and sweet.

I went with my standard Drafthouse meal…no experimentation this time: White wine, hotwings, hummus with pita chips. I’d just shaved and–in the dark–ended up with hotwing sauce all over my face. Note to self: Avoid hotwings on days that you shave. Face. On. Fire.

In gaming news, I finally got the card game Zombie Flux, and I’m excited about trying it out soon.

I’m still playing Spore and Civilization Revolution…I hope to write up some comments on both soon. I tried to play Just Cause and couldn’t get into it at all.

Last Night in Austin

The Alamo Drafthouse showed the 1984 film Streets of Fire last night, bringing in two of the actors: Michael Paré and Deborah Van Valkenburgh.

When I was a kid, I loved this (super melodramatic) movie and the associated music. Seeing Streets of Fire again was great and the event was made more fun by the cast member Q&A.

As usual, my camera-phone photography is atrocious and might blind you.

As a followup, the Drafthouse screened the Road to Hell, a short film based loosely on Streets of Fire. I respect the efforts of any group of creative people, but the short film seemed to misunderstand the emotions and concepts behind Streets of Fire. The basic idea is great: Driving along a seemingly endless desert road, two women come across a man who seems adrift…haunted by some obsession from his past. For me, the entire idea was wrecked by the depiction of the women as psychotic travelers and Tom Cody from Streets of Fire as a man who has lost his mind and has become a savage killer. This is a fine direction for a film, but it just seems like a project completely unrelated to Streets of Fire.

I’d love to see a graphic novel or short film that sticks to the themes and tone of the original. If they’d broken down at an abandoned refinery or a blue collar ghost town at the edges of some place that seemed like some mythic NYC, it might have worked better. In the version I want to see, the two women (one angry, one always dreaming of what she can’t have) come across Tom Cody. He’s unsure of where he is, lost and out of touch with the world because of his obsession with Ellen Aim, trapped in some place that doesn’t exist. Streets of Fire meets King’s the Gunslinger, or Streets of Fire–the post-movie Twilight Zone episode. This seems like it might be closer to a world scored by Jim Steinman. Lost boys and golden girls.

Last Night in Austin

Last night the Alamo Drafthouse hosted film director Monte Hellman for a double feature. This would not have happened without the efforts of my friend Charles Lieurance, who loves Hellman’s work.

We watched The Shooting (with a young Jack Nicholson) and Two Lane Blacktop (starring musician James Taylor). Both were interesting and beautiful films. (It was actually a triple feature, but I didn’t stay for the Weird Wednesdays showing of the third Monte Hellman film…)

Below are phone pics of 1) Lars talking to Hellman, and 2) the poster the Drafthouse put out. Unfortunately, I was too busy listening to Charles’ passionate introduction to catch a photo of him on stage.